Georgia as the New Hollywood
The American film industry is the machine that infuses our humdrum workaday lives with stories of chivalric love, intoxicating adventures, and uplifting dramas. The red carpet telecast of glitzy prime time awards shows, the chic low-cut designer gowns and the paparazzi photos of sweatpants clad movie star’s trekking to Walgreen’s enrapture us regular fly-over folks. Yet Hollywood, this intriguing world of cinematic legends and artistic gurus, is setting down new roots in Georgia—better known for mosquito plagues, red clay dust and the squeal like a pig scene from “Deliverance.”
Turns out, money talks, and apparently, it sounds great with a drawl and a twang. Louisiana pioneered the Southern film industry movement, enacting laws and offering tax incentives in 2002 that opened the door for a cinematic stampede. Georgia put out an initial tiered tax break system in place in 2002 as well; however, the plan was a convoluted bureaucratic scheme and producers passed. But since then, it has been modified twice, and Georgia was recently given its center-stage moment when Louisiana revised its incentive laws, making tax breaks for the film industry more stringent. Now, many of the productions that would that have been on location in New Orleans or the bayou have made their way to the Peach State.
As a result, within the past decade, the influx of nomadic producers flocking to Georgia to book studios, rent locations, and hire cast members has seen Georgia’s film industry revenue increase from $800 million to over $6 billion, ranking third in the nation behind New York and California. From July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, 245 movies and television shows fueled Metro Atlanta’s motion-picture boom.
The increased presence of the film industry has had an unanticipated impact on the culture, and the politics, of Georgia as well. The law of unintended consequences caught the good old boys in the Gold Dome right where it counts. The film industry takes legitimate pride in its level of equal opportunity access and inclusion. While not perfect, it is far more diverse than any other industry of its size and scale. What grumpy cynics might call P.C. Culture, Hollywood calls the right thing to do.
Today, Atlanta regularly hosts film festivals and screenings that raise awareness for minorities in Southern culture, aiding the New South’s mission to recreate its identity. The Women in Horror Film Festival places the spotlight on female horror directors, showcasing local produced films like DeadThirsty and “women who have dedicated their craft to this genre.” Out On Film, one of the “oldest LGBT film festivals in the country,” spotlights movies within the queer community, offering an artistic space for individuals the Old South shunned.
Since the 2015 Oscar controversy, the casting of minorities in major roles holds greater importance. African-Americans are increasing their on-screen presence through Southern film. As Jason Lynch states in his “Adweek” article, Tyler Perry “set up shop in Atlanta in the mid-2000s, as a hub for all his film and TV productions.” Perry’s creations offer characters, plots, and settings linking African American and Southern culture.
A crystalline conviction in diversity and political clout are why in 2016 when Georgia Governor Nathan Deal was deciding whether to sign the Religious Liberty Bill, a bill that has been interpreted as a way to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQIA community, the governor received heavy pushback from the film industry. Their outcry did not go unnoticed, and for good reason—the bill was as a conservative backlash against the Supreme Courts celebrated ruling regarding gay marriage equality. Ultimately, Governor Deal rejected the bill, stating that Georgians “are a warm and welcoming people” and that he did not want there to be any perception of anything otherwise. Without the pressure from Hollywood leaders, there’s serious doubt that he would’ve vetoed the legislation.
The Georgia film industry is flourishing, creating job opportunities and offering training programs for crew and construction. We’re the same place that not too long ago was considered backward and out-of-date, and now some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry do business in our state. With each new episode of shows like “Atlanta” from Donald Glover, or any one of the numerous hits produced at Pinewood Studios, we are proving ourselves to be more progressive and innovative than we even imagined possible.